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Power Plant Failure Sends Inky Smoke Into Long Island City

By  Jeanmarie Evelly and Jess Wisloski | June 24, 2013 6:53pm 

 Big Allis, a well-known smokestack in the Long Island City area, pours black smoke after a fan breakdown on June 24, 2013.
Big Allis, a well-known smokestack in the Long Island City area, pours black smoke after a fan breakdown on June 24, 2013.
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Photo Courtesy of Paul Albano

LONG ISLAND CITY — A power plant that generates electricity for city residents had a breakdown Monday, sending plumes of black smoke into the air for a short time in western Queens, officials said.

Massive clouds of the inky smoke poured from a smokestack into the air around 4:30 p.m., worrying residents who witnessed the unusual sight at the power plant still known locally as Ravenswood No. 3, or "Big Allis."

FDNY responders showed up based on reports of a fire at the TransCanada power plant at 38-54 Vernon Blvd., only to discover that a dysfunctional oil burner had caused the 4:30 p.m. eruption, an FDNY spokesperson said.

"We saw a lot of smoke. I got scared," said Ali Zulfigar, works at a mechanics shop on 38th Avenue. "I've worked here 15 years and I've never seen smoke coming out of there."

The FDNY said the plant's workers were already in the process of remidying the situation when they arrived, and that the city did not intervene.

The smokey conditions were caused by the breakdown specifically of a boiler combustion fan, one of eight that operate in the plant, according to TransCanada, which responded to phone inquiries with a prepared statement.

"There was no fire, and there is no risk to human health," said Grady Semmens, a TransCanada spokesman. "Our personnel are investigating what took place, and until we can determine what caused the fan to stop and safely make repairs, this individual unit will be operating under a limited load."

He said the facility, called Ravenswood, was able to deliver additional power using a backup unit that is on site, "which will allow us to meet our commitments to our customers in the New York City area." 

However, a union worker at the scene said he thought there would be some extra burden on the city's infrastructure.

"The equipment tripped out, but the fuel was still going into the boiler," said Paul Albano, of Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2. "This is a major tax on the grid."

A Con Edison spokesperson was not immediately available to report on whether customers were impacted in the delivery of electricty.